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In Focus

The Wilmington Jewish Film Festival Continues to Grow

When Enosh Cassel, of Israel, took his brother Hannan, who has Down syndrome, on a three-week trek in the Himalayas, Cassel documented their journey on film, never anticipating what might unfold.

The brothers’ story ended up igniting a wave of reaction among relatives wanting to do the same thing. And so they did. A group of people with Down syndrome and their siblings hiked the Himalayas with their brothers and sisters in an emotional tale so captivating it too was captured on video and turned into the documentary My Hero Brother, directed by Yonatan Nir.

My Hero Brother will be among nine award-winning international films showcased at this year’s Wilmington Jewish Film Festival, now in its fifth year.

“These are films through distributors, and they represent ten different countries – nine films from ten countries over eight dates – a world of Jewish film,” says PEGGY PANCOE ROSOFF, who co-founded the local film festival with friend BEVERLY SCHONINGER. The inaugural one took place in 2014.

The festival has grown from being organized by Schoninger and Rosoff and a couple volunteers to a team of more than forty individuals.

The festival’s length and the number of films screened each year also has grown.

A unique festival trademark is its mini post parties of food and beverage following each screening that deepen the experience, organizers say.

“We had a gentleman come who did not fit the profile of a film festivalgoer, so he stood out. We engaged in conversation, and I thought, ‘Wow, we’re doing exactly what I wanted. We’re educating, informing, bringing people together, helping create a community,’” Schoninger says.

In 2015, Steven Spielberg’s sister, Nancy, whose documentary Above and Beyond was shown, came in person to see it and treated festivalgoers to a question-and-answer session.

“We nearly sold out Thalian Hall. That to me is the most exciting part, to share with the public the filmmakers and have the opportunity to ask them questions,” Rosoff says.

Among the 2018 festival picks, in addition to My Hero Brother, is a psychological thriller Shelter, a drama An Israeli Love Story, a documentary on Sammy Davis Jr., and a comedy called Across the Line.

All will be shown at Thalian Hall over eight days beginning April 22. Each film has been carefully chosen by the festival’s film selection committee. “We wanted to make sure we have high-quality educating and informative film, nothing below par,” Schoninger says.

The Wilmington Jewish Festival is presented in association with the United Jewish Appeal of Wilmington, and this year’s festival chair is DEBBIE SMITH.

New this year is an art exhibit, Jewish Art: Diverse Cultures, on display during the film festival with works displayed at Thalian Hall and Art in Bloom Gallery. Proceeds from sales of the selected works benefit the festival, Thalian Hall, and contributing artists.

For this year’s schedule, including trailers and ticket info, go to wilmingtonjff.org.

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